Bush Medicine Leaves: History of an Aboriginal Art Dreaming

Bush Medicine Leaves: History of an Aboriginal Art Dreaming

One of the most immensely popular and fascinating Aboriginal Dreaming stories is that of the Bush Medicine Leaves. Utopian women from Central Australia have long painted this ascetically pleasing and methodically executed story since the introduction of acrylic paint into their community.

The Utopian Women paint this dreaming as it pays homage to the natural shrub remedy which comes from the land and is used to treat small aliments, wounds, coughs and even be used as insect repellent. Commonly, leaves are boiled to extract the resin, which is then combined with Kangaroo or Emu fat.

What is Bush Medicine?

Bush medicine is a traditional practice of using native plants for medicinal purposes by Aboriginal Australians. This practice has been passed down for thousands of years, and it holds a deep spiritual and cultural significance. The knowledge of bush medicine is closely tied to the Dreamtime stories and the interconnectedness of all living things in the natural world.

The History Behind the Bush Leaves Paintings

The art of bush medicine leaves painting is a unique form of Aboriginal art that emerged in the late 20th century. This art form is a visual representation of the traditional knowledge and practices surrounding bush medicine. The paintings depict various native plants and their medicinal properties, often accompanied by Dreamtime stories and cultural symbolism.

The origins of this art form can be traced back to the remote communities of Central Australia, particularly in the Western Desert region. As Aboriginal artists sought to preserve and share their cultural heritage, the bush medicine leaves paintings became a powerful medium for storytelling and knowledge transmission.

What can Bush medicine be used for?

Bush medicine has been used by Aboriginal communities for a wide range of purposes, including:

  • Treating physical ailments: Different plants are used to treat conditions such as skin problems, respiratory issues, pain, and infections.
  • Spiritual healing: Many bush medicines are believed to have spiritual properties and are used in traditional healing ceremonies and rituals.
  • Bush foods: Some native plants are used as sources of nutrition and are valued for their sustenance.
  • Cultural practices: Bush medicines play a significant role in various cultural ceremonies and practices, such as birthing practices, initiations, and funerary rites.

Artist Who Uses Bush Medicine Leaves Painting

One of the most renowned artists who have contributed to the bush medicine leaves painting tradition is Kathleen Petyarre. Born in the 1930s, Petyarre is a renowned Anmatyerre artist from the Utopia region of Central Australia. Her intricate and vibrant paintings depict the bush medicine leaves of the Apenpe (Twining Plant) and the journey of the women who collect and use these plants.

Petyarre's artwork has been celebrated both nationally and internationally, and her works are held in major collections around the world. Her paintings not only showcase the beauty and complexity of bush medicine but also serve as a powerful storytelling tool, preserving and sharing the rich cultural heritage of her people.

Gloria Petyarre is a renowned Aboriginal artist from the Utopia region of Central Australia. She is from the Anmatyerre language group.

Her paintings depict the Apenpe or Twining Plant, which is a type of bush medicine used by Aboriginal women in her community. The intricate dot patterns and designs represent the plant's branches, leaves, seeds, and flowers.

Petyarre's art emerged in the 1990s along with other Utopia artists painting these important bush medicine subjects. Her unique take uses very fine, detailed dot work in a blend of earth tones like ochres, blacks, whites, and vivid accents.


The bush medicine leaves paintings are a testament to the enduring legacy of Aboriginal cultural practices and the deep connection between art, healing, and the natural world. These artworks not only celebrate the traditional knowledge of bush medicine but also serve as a bridge between the ancient and the contemporary, ensuring that this invaluable wisdom is preserved and passed on to future generations.

As we continue to explore and appreciate the rich tapestry of Aboriginal art, the bush medicine leaves paintings stand as a powerful reminder of the resilience, creativity, and spiritual depth of Australia's First Nations people.

Looking for a variety of aboriginal women artist paintings? Take your pick at The Mandel Aboriginal Art Gallery and see what more we have to offer! Call us at 03 94975111 for more information.

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